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4 Questions You Might Have About Recurrent Cancer

What is recurrent disease?

Recurrent disease(REE-CER-ENT DUH-ZEEZ) — The return of cancer after a period of time following initial diagnosis is the return of cancer after a period of time following initial treatment(TREET-MINT) — Techniques to help eliminate or control a disease. After treatment was completed, unfortunately, there were "invisible" cancer cells lying dormant in the body, not causing problems. Then one day, they started to grow and became big enough to see. Recurrent cancer is like when a dormant dandelion seed begins to grow after a period of time and becomes a visible dandelion in the yard.

Who can develop recurrent cancer?

All patients who have previously had cancer can have it recur. We know this sounds scary. For most patients, this is their biggest fear. Fortunately, if the original cancer was found early and treated with the appropriate surgery(SIR-JER-REE) — Physical removal of a tumor, radiation(RAY-DEE-A-SHUN) — High energy waves used to treat cancer in a specific area of the body, and medications, many patients will not have their cancer recur. However, even patients who receive the best and most appropriate treatment can have their cancer return. Nowadays, if a patient does develop recurrent disease, there are usually good treatment options available.

Please note that the risk or chance of recurrence(REE-CER-ENCE) — When a cancer returns or comes back is very dependent on the type of cancer and if the cancer is found at an early stage.

When does cancer usually return (if it will)?

Recurrent cancer rarely returns during active treatment. More commonly, it recurs many months to years after the initial diagnosis and treatment. The frightening thing about recurrent cancer is for certain types—like breast cancer(BRE-ST CAN-SIR) — An abnormal growth that originates from breast tissue and prostate cancer(PRAH-STATE CAN-SIR) — Abnormal growth that originates from prostate tissue—sometimes it can recur 10 or even 20 years after the original diagnosis, at any time and in any location of the body.1 However, for most types of cancer, it will recur in the first 2 to 5 years if it is going to recur.

The type of cancer, its characteristics, and ongoing treatment can influence the timing of the recurrence. For example, very fast-growing diseases, like some types of lung cancer(LUNG CAN-SIR) — Abnormal growth that originates from lung tissue (small cell lung cancerA type of lung cancer) or pancreatic cancer, tend to recur in months to a year after treatment and are less likely to lay dormant for many years without recurring. Additionally, ongoing preventive systemic treatment(SIS-TEM-IK TREET-MINT) — Techniques targeting the whole body to eliminate or control a cancer (adjuvant treatment(ADD-JOO-VENT TREET-MINT) — Anticancer treatment given after surgery or maintenance therapy(MAIN-TEN-ENCE THAIR-AH-PEE) — Ongoing systemic treatment of a controlled active disease) can delay recurrences. An example of adjuvant treatment is hormonal therapy(HORE-MOAN-OL THAIR-AH-PEE) — Anticancer medication used to target estrogen and progesterone receptors for breast cancer.

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Is there more than one type of recurrent disease?

Recurrent disease is classified as either local recurrence(LOW-COAL REE-CER-ENCE) — Cancer that comes back near or close to the location of the original tumor or distant recurrence(DIS-TINT RE-CER-ENCE) — Cancer that comes back far away from the location of the original tumor. Local recurrence is like having a dandelion return in the original flowerbed or close by. Distant recurrence is like having a dandelion appear in the yard far away from the original flowerbed. Each type of recurrence is treated very differently; the prognosis(PRAHG-NO-SIS) — A predicted outcome for groups of patients and available treatment options vary greatly (depending on the type of cancer and when it recurs).

For most cases, the treatment of a local recurrence is aimed at removing all of the recurrent disease in the affected area. In contrast, the treatment of a distant recurrence is mostly aimed at controlling the cancer. Depending on the type of cancer, how long it took before it recurred, and how far the recurrent cancer has spread, curing it still might be the goal of treatment. The goals of treatment for recurrent cancer is very dependent on the type of disease, the location of recurrence, and previous treatment received.

Calculate your prognosis or risk of recurrence with https://cancersurvivalrates.com/

  1. Colleoni M, Sun Z, Price KN, et al. Annual hazard rates of recurrence for breast cancer during 24 years of follow-up: Results from the international breast cancer study group trials I to V. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2016;34(9):927–935. doi:10.1200/jco.2015.62.3504.
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